On Wisconsin at Netroots Nation

At the sixth annual Netroots Nations gathering, the Wisconsin Uprising has taken center stage. So many attendees are inspired by the organizing efforts that Wisconsinites get rounds of applause wherever we go.

Several panels on the first day of this progressive blogging conference focused on the fight-back against the Governor Scott Walker’s radical rightwing agenda.

“Wisconsin is Ground Zero right now,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a PAC that supports “bold progressive candidates,” according to its website.

(If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard “Wisconsin is Ground Zero” here at Netroots, I’d be rich enough to qualify for those Bush-era tax cuts.)

Green, along with MoveOn.org, and Democracy for America, held a panel on national organizing efforts in Wisconsin, with a particular focus on the Democratic Party’s “Fab 14” and the upcoming recall elections.

“If we win these elections in Wisconsin, it will have huge ripple effects,” Green said. “This is seriously where we need to frontload our efforts.”

Green noted how much money and effort the group sunk into the Wisconsin Supreme Court spring election between David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg. The candidate that these outside liberal groups supported--Kloppenburg--lost, but Green noted how the ads they ran improved her percentage points.

The fact that Kloppenburg lost the election was not a surprise to anyone who actually lives in Wisconsin. Some critics argue that by putting all the eggs into the spring electoral basket, it undermined the organizing for a broad-based movement.

When I asked what lessons were learned from the Kloppenburg campaign, no one from MoveOn.org, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, or Democracy for America responded. Only Steve Spector from AFT-Wisconsin (the only Wisconsinite on the panel about Wisconsin) had an answer. He said they felt like they had no choice, that they should’ve started organizing earlier, and that they needed to make more connections in blue-collar areas, such as Fond du Lac, that went for Prosser.

Green says this is not a partisan issue. But his group is playing a major role in the upcoming efforts to recall six Republican legislators this summer. So is MoveOn.org and Democracy for America.

Levana Layendecker, communications director at Democracy for America, a group that was founded by Howard Dean, said her group would spend $1.5 million on the recall efforts, with a focus on three key districts. She also said that her group spent $200,000 to support the Fab 14 while they were out of the state.

“Essentially we’re laying down the gauntlet in Wisconsin,” she said. “And that’s going to set the standard for what’s going to happen in the other states.”

It’s clear that the Republicans are using Wisconsin as a laboratory for its agenda. But I didn’t realize until I got to Netroots that the Democrats, labor, and their affiliated groups (sorry, you can’t spend lots of money to get Dems elected, then say it’s not partisan) were using Wisconsin as a laboratory, too. They are already planning on using tactics honed in Wisconsin in other states such as Michigan or Ohio.

The good thing is, as Steve Spector noted, that progressive groups are working together as never before. And it’s great to have national groups investing money and energy into our local fight.

But a bad thing is, back in Wisconsin, Walker has gotten everything he wants. As my colleague Matt Rothschild wrote today: “The mood in Wisconsin is dejected. After a string of defeats, first losing the state supreme court race against David Prosser, then losing the decision at the state supreme court on the anti-collective bargaining law, and finally losing the vote on Walker’s hideous budget in the state legislature, people are down. People see that Walker won everything big that he asked for, and despite all the great activism, we don’t have anything to show for it—at least not yet. As a result, lots of people are going to suffer.”

And I am one of those people who is going to suffer. My family is taking a 10% pay cut due to the budget, which just passed. So many of my friends and neighbors are going to suffer huge losses. Multiply my story by a million and you can just start to get an understanding of how bad things are in Wisconsin.

It’ll be interesting to see how the recall elections pan out this summer. But even if the recalls are successful, it’s only a stop-gap measure. The suffering will continue.

But will MoveOn.org or Democracy for America, or the Progressive Change Campaign Committee still be invested after this summer or after the 2012 election? We’ll have to wait until 2013 to find out if it was a long-term or short-term investment.

If you liked this story by Elizabeth DiNovella, the Culture Editor of The Progressive magazine, check out her story "Wisconsin’s Protest Glee Club."

Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter